Ah yes, Super Bowl weekend. The smell of beer, chips and dip. The angst that comes with not giving a flying nacho about the action or the outcome.
Then of course there's the nerdy matter of caring deeply about the Super Bowl ads. This year, again, Canadians get to see them, to the chagrin of Bell Media, which went to the Supreme Court to have that CRTC decision overturned, and the court rejected that request. That fight isn't over, given the revenues involved.
The Super Bowl (Sunday, 6 p.m., NBC, CTV, CTV Two and TSN2) goes on and on for hours. Before that, intense discussion of the Philadelphia Eagles versus New England Patriots goes on and for longer than Murdoch Mysteries has been running on CBC, or so it seems. At some point, at approximately 10 p.m. viewers can see the special, post-Super Bowl episode of This Is Us on CTV and NBC.
But there are alternatives and offshoots that matter. Don't forget the annual Puppy Bowl (Sunday, 3 p.m., Animal Planet) where it's Team Fluff versus Team Ruff. The dogs are from shelters and find their new homes through this event. The halftime show has, as usual, some cute kitties doing cute kitty stuff. Watching puppies carry a chew toy across the goal line is splendid entertainment and thoroughly good for the soul.
Altered Carbon (streams on Netflix) is ideal, mind-bending alternative viewing to the Super Bowl hubbub and overkill.
It's a dazzling sci-fi extravaganza that is meant to make your eyes and your brain pop.
Based on the 2002 book by Richard K. Morgan and adapted by Laeta Kalogridis (Terminator Genisys, Shutter Island), it is set deep into the future where all sorts of technical advances make life and living very different. Human consciousness can be moved from one body to another. That sort of thing. "Your body is not who you are. You shed it like a snake sheds its skin," says a woman in a voiceover at the start.
There is a lot of tech-talk about "sleeves" and "stacks" and the problem of figuring out what is human consciousness here, in what can seem very like Blade Runner in its ecstatic visuals and complicated plotting. But if you watch you'll find that it is, at heart, a very old-fashioned story about a down-at-heel detective taking on a case.
That guy is Takeshi Kovacs, who was once a "super-soldier" of the type known as "Envoys" but after an escapade gone wrong, which we see in the opening, he awakes 250 years later in another body. He's tough, cynical and brimful of putdowns and sneering answers to questions. As played by Joel Kinnaman, who was wonderful as Holder in the U.S. version of The Killing, he's a laconic mercenary, not all that far removed from Philip Marlowe in a Raymond Chandler novel.
He's leery of taking a case that will offer him money and some respite in this world he's entered. Seems the very wealthy Laurens Bancroft (James Purefoy) wants him to figure out who murdered Laurens Bancroft at some point in the past. He survived in the sense that his consciousness is restored, but he wants to know who killed him. He thinks that might be his wife, Miriam, but he's not sure. Kristin Lehman from CTV's Motive plays Miriam and she's excellent here as a charming but ruthless woman who is determined to live forever, and subtly mimics the femme fatale figures of Philip Marlowe adventures.
Thus begins the search for the killer. And on the way Takeshi is obliged to discover and understand his own past. This will take many episodes and incidents of gore and melancholy, but it does play out as, ultimately, a poignant story.
What helps it along immensely is the humour and drollery that is an intrinsic part of it. When our hero decides to explore the new metropolis he's entered – it's like any urban downtown of drugs, sex workers and violence – he lands at the Raven Hotel. It's run by an artificial presence called Poe (Chris Conner), who looks like Edgar Allan Poe and who treats the various dangers and romantic entanglements of our hero as an excuse for some sizzling and barbed wit.
There us an awful lot going on in Altered Carbon, a production that clearly cost tens of millions of dollars per episode, and much of it is visual flash. But it's the human touches, humour and the essentially traditional storyline that makes it appealing. Indulge in it and you will remember it long after another bloated Super Bowl cavalcade.